Jul. 14th, 2010

After the abdication of bishop Vangheluwe of Bruges, the situation in Belgium has continued snowballing, going far beyond concerns for victims of abuse. Let me set the stage first: in January 2010, Cardinal Danneels retired as archbishop, and the conservative bishop Léonard of Namur stepped up to replace him. Then, on April 23rd, bishop Vangheluwe of Bruges abdicates, after his nephew threatens to take the sexual abuse at his hands public.

Fallout from Bruges
The Pope accepts his resignation, but it creates a furor: hundreds of people who had been sexually abused by clergy as children step forward, contacting Father Rik Devillé or the Adriaenssens Commission, which is investigating child sexual abuse in the Church. This commission isn't a secular institution, though— it's attached to the bishopric of Tournai. An ex-deacon and a chaplain who had been convicted for pedophiliac abuses were dismissed from the bishopric of Bruges.

Belgian bishops as a whole step forward, make a case that the Church is turning a new leaf as evidenced by Vangheluwe stepping down, and confers with the Pope. The Department of Justice says it has some evidence that points at other victims, though, which the Church has not come clean about, and the suicide of the brother of the original victim a few years ago gets a lot of airtime in the media. The bishopric palace in Bruges is vandalized. A hiphop song about paedophiliac pastors becomes popular. But, gradually, things die down.

One of the questions that remains unanswered is how his own guilt influenced his handling of clergy who had sex with minors, and the tendency of the Church to forgive and forget.

Search & seizure
On the 24th of June, the State Counsel's Office obtains a search warrant and raids the premises of cardinal Danneels' home, the archbishopric palace, the offices of the Adriaenssens Commission as well as Saint Rumbold Cathedral, which is part of the archbishopric of Mechelen-Brussels.

There's an outcry by both Catholic partisans and the victims who had approached the Commission, whose private files are now in the hands of a Brussels court. Doctor Adriaenssens denounces the raid, but the reaction by the Vatican is downright incendiary— it accuses the Belgian state of engaging in repression that surpasses that of the former Eastern Bloc, and is particularly offended at the opening of graves inside the cathedral.

Justice Minister Stefaan Declerck of the Christian Democratic party gives interviews in which he tries to minimize the outrage, pointing out that a single grave, recently restored, had been opened at the suggestion of a member of the clergy who hinted that documents may have been hidden there. Images of officers throwing boxes of files out the windows of the archbishopric palace are shown on TV.

A few days later, the Pope bestows the pallium on archbishop Léonard. Brussels courts suggest the victims come to them for counseling, debate rages about a successor to the disbanded Adriaenssens Commission, magistrates and Rik Devillé get death threats.

Leaks & justice
In the days after the search, many leaks to the press occur: the location of the 12-hour interrogation of the cardinal, the knowledge that archbishop Léonard possessed a copy of files from the prosecution in the Dutroux Case that shocked Belgium in 1996 and was related to sexual abuse of children. Even on the personal computer of cardinal Danneels, a picture of a naked preteen in the shower was found.

Meanwhile, an anonymous letter was sent to a local paper, naming 19 priests from the bishopric of Ghent and pointing out their violations of celibacy, from cruising for anonymous sex in parks to using dating sites and going to leatherbar and S&M clubs in the Netherlands and the United States. These are all victimless crimes, though the author claims they are all 'homosexual' and violate celibacy. The bishops and the cardinal point out that this resembles an anti-Catholic witch hunt rather than a concern for any victims.

The extent of the leaks, however, seems to indicate an internal power struggle in the Department of Justice between Catholic and secular judges, both of whom are trying to get the upper hand. Before 2000, the road to being appointed judge went through the offices of the political parties, whose support was crucial. This led to a number of famously partisan judges, with the secular faction containing a few freemasons and the Catholic faction a number of Opus Dei members. Due to the strength of the Christian Democrats, a majority of the judges are Catholic.

Catholic upswing
As the showdown continues, the Department of Justice admits that the cathedral was searched after a suggestion from ex-magistrate Halsberge, formerly head of the commission on sexual abuses in the Church, that it contained files and documents incriminating cardinal Danneels in covering up abuse scandals. However, public opinion turns against the State Counsel's Office as the leaked information turned out to be misrepresented: the files of the Dutroux Case that were found in archbisshop Léonard's archives were sent to him by a third party and had been distributed to the media by the Justice Department itself, and the 'nude picture' found on cardinal Danneels' personal computer was found in his browser cache. It turns out to be an 'art picture', La Douche II, published on a culture site associated with public broadcasting. The Council of Bishops officially questions the legality of the search.

When Jozef De Kesel was invested as the new bishop of Bruges on the 10th of July, cardinal Danneels received a standing ovation, a rather unusual occurance during mass. Admittedly, he was born near Bruges and Catholicism is still very strong there, but he hasn't been cleared of all wrongdoing yet. The oddness of the 2010 appointments seems to indicate another conflict, one within the clergy: cardinal Danneels stepped aside despite enduring popularity, though his tense relationship with the new Pope was common knowledge. Pope Benedict XVI then named Léonard, most conservative of the bishops, as the new Primate, even though the Council of Belgian Bishops hadn't even put his name in contention; the favored choice of the Council was Jozef De Kesel, against whose appointment as the bishop of Bruges Léonard has lobbied strongly. In fact, aware of De Kesel's popularity and the cardinal's approval, one of Léonard's first acts as archbishop was demoting him from coadjutor bishop of Brussels to coadjutor bishop of Flemish Brabant.

Conclusion
Hopefully concern for justice will take center stage again in the future, which would mean that the victims get support and the abusers get prosecuted, no matter who they may be. As it is now, the Department of Justice is split between secular and Catholic, and the Catholics are split between loyalty to their liberal cardinal and the conservative Pope, and the Adriaenssens Commission is dead. These partisan power struggles have caused both secular and spiritual organs of justice to lose sight of the important things.

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Julianna Lacroix

July 2010

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